Thom Browne’s Asylum

Why does fashion week still exist? That’s an easy one.


A question that keeps coming up this season is one that’s been coming up ever since the first runway live-stream. If everyone can watch everything occurring at Fashion Week thanks to the Internet, what’s the point of producing a show, and gathering people to watch it anyway?

The simple answer is: Thom Browne.

His show, which took place in a fourth floor Chelsea gallery yesterday was set to start at 5PM. What will typically happen is that a 5PM show will actually begin by 5:30. Because no show runs longer than, say, eight minutes, it will also essentially end by 5:30 and after the larger chunk of guests present have tweeted, instragrammed, vined and so forth, the next show will start, wherever it may be, and the previous one will be absolutely, positively over.

People often say that “time is of the essence” at Fashion Week. Yesterday, though, Browne proved that when you’re Thom Browne, there is no such thing as time.

After being led into his show venue, which contained several different blocks of rooms, separating the guests by white padded walls but maintaining one lonesome, flickering lightbulb and hanging mannequin in each division, most attendants were seated by 5:15PM.

By 5:30 – with no models were in sight – the flickering lights and eery, non-lyrical music prompted that guests take to Twitter. Cathy Horyn wrote, “Kinda Manchurchian Candidate at Thom Browne. Tinkly chimes, a lone light bulb, a dummy hanging from ceiling, an audience going mad from wait.” While Laura Brown joked, “I think I just celebrated another birthday waiting for Thom Browne.” And an astute observation from Vogue’s Katherine Bernard made sense of the exhausting wait. “Late start on @ThomBrowneNY mental institution show–with flickering lights and eerie music box chiming…one editor says: This is insane!”

So that was the point, right? To make us feel insane? We waited another twenty minutes until an army of well heeled, doily sock wearing nurses emerged from behind a set of doors in white architectural dresses and two pieces. Their faces were cloaked by small, circular rimmed, reflective sunglasses and their hair, which was teased out was contained by nets. Each nurse resumed a position at the corner of her room, just next to a small white station boasting a pill jar and set of medicine cups. Slowly, the nurses began removing pills from the jar, putting them in their cups, and distributing the “medicine” to members of the audience.

So we are the crazy ones. Fascinating.

Before I could season that thought, though, the next army of what Browne referred to in Vogue as “Elizabethan clowns” began slowly walking through the room. Further teased hair, red hair nets instead of white, more latex than I have ever seen at a runway show and pale faces cloaked by red lipstick that, like Thom Browne, did not abide by a stay-between-the-lines ethos corrected my assumption. These were the patients, and they’d arrived.

The slightly creepy traipse of his models who were dressed similarly if not more grandiosely and perhaps intricately in mostly mid length skirts and dresses weren’t just showing. They were performing.

Paying closer attention to the extensive, 39-look spectacle which included visibly hand-sewn bead work, painting and shredding, it seemed obvious that Thom Browne may be one of the only American designers who not just understands couture, but can do it – and for a ready-to-wear show.

Gifted designers have power. They dictate not only the way we’ll dress, but the way we’ll want to dress. Many have mastered the art of contorting the female shape while others have displayed their urgency to edit and enhance the setting in menswear. Browne, however, has challenged both formats, governing precisely the way a man and woman should want to dress (for the latter, it’s in white gowns that may slightly resemble the human large intestine). The thing of it is, though, you may not realize that by simply sample sizing images from a show, or that which makes it to a sales floor. With Thom Browne, the clothes are about the attitude and the atmosphere, and the attitude and the atmosphere are about the event. Obviously, there’s no event if there’s no fashion week.

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  • …governing precisely the way a man and woman should want to dress

    So where were the mad men at this show?

    (At least the receiving end (medicines) would have been appropriate, no? :-))
    (Are there any shows at NYFW devoted to men’s fashion (am asking cause I don’t know)?)

    • marinacasapu

      There is a Men Fashion Week for that! As Leandra once said – There is always a fashion week somewhere in the world.

      • Ah, OK – sounds clever. Split them up and double the fun or something 🙂 THX.

  • Paco T.

    he’s just too amazing!!!!!

  • As much as I appreciate the event from an art performance perspective, I truly think it was a bit classless.

  • Thanks to people like you and Thom Browne, I still believe in the eccentricity of fashion.

    Your Friend, Jess

    P.S. I just ordered your book.

  • Sharon Macklin

    I don’t like any of it, although I guess I can see how many of the looks could be changed to actually be worn. I hate (HATE) the makeup – makes me think the designer and/or the makeup artist really does not like women. Horrible lipstick.

  • Lisa Thomson

    I must be fashion ignorant because in spite of your lovely interpretation of the show i just don’t get it. Why would the designer want beautiful models to look ugly? Maybe it’s the zombie culture infiltrating but who would actually wear any of these pieces? Help me…

  • Ash

    This is awesome.

  • Katerina

    A show I would’ve loved to have seen in person. Amazing

  • (BAD) Blog About Design

    Wow! This collection is thinking totally out of the box. He’s got a few really strong pieces.

    Check out the BAD blog…

  • I, Cecille

    Some of the pieces would look absolutely horrible on anyone BUT on the other hand, some of the designs are achingly Beautiful. Stellar attention to details. There is a white lace dress with what appears to be latex on top which is just stunningly gorgeous. Maybe there is something profound to be said about the die hard fashionista’s…things of beauty sometimes attract the ugliest…Are you ‘picking up’ ladies & men? Go Tom.

  • daphne

    That show looks like it was pretty insane…in a good way at least! xx

  • lvnaluna

    This is a really great piece of writing! Love reading your stuff xx

  • lala

    where the #$(*#&%@@**$&$& do I wear this in Charlotte, NC?

  • s

    everything you described, in no way could i have taken from the slide show. The shows are crucial to the industry in telling stories and a total image behind collections. love browne’s work!


  • kirbybee

    I have to steadfastly agree. It’s the atmosphere that makes the event. I can view the images of Tom Browne’s collection a hundred times on (which I very nearly have) but I simply don’t get the same sense of what it’s all about sitting behind a screen as opposed to sitting right there.

    That said I can, and have, found a real appreciation for this collection from viewing the images. It appears Browne has eschewed the contemporary commercialism of the industry and instead taken a distinctly couture route. Something to be applauded. Because while we undoubtedly need commercial fashion, being naked all the time simply isn’t an option, fashion as something that is both wearable and makes you think is so important on a number of levels. Congrats to Tom Browne for putting the chic in asylum.

  • I’m digging the theatricality of Thom Browne runway show. Theatrics and grandeur fell out of fashion with the recession, and it’s nice to see them being slowly introduced back in artistic–rather than purely ostentatious–ways.

  • Maraleth Herrera

    I couldn’t move past the multiboobed top

  • sarah

    unlike galliano and mcqueen show of the past, i don’t see the beauty in this, it looks gaudy. it may have been an experience, but as a non show-goer it’s lost on me. they all look a bit like betsey johnson. an the clothes will probably become favourites of industry insiders, but price aside they will not grace the insides of my closet, or touch my back. but i guess there is a point to it all. it may influence, but i don’t even see anything unique or even interesting really. I say ‘meh’. ;-0

  • Stela

    Love the cloths and the way it was presented! Finally something to look for.
    Well Writen review maks my sorry I was not there

  • Melanie

    Love that all the bags are swinging open… I would probably have nightmares after this show though.